• Bible Films Blog

    Looking at film interpretations of the stories in the Bible - past, present and future, as well as preparation for a future work on Straub/Huillet's Moses und Aron and a few bits and pieces on biblical studies.

    Matt Page


    Sunday, January 26, 2014

    Greatest Heroes of the Bible: David and Goliath (1978)

    The latest in this series of films about David is this entry from The Greatest Heroes of the Bible series and I have to say it exceeded my (admittedly low) expectations. Perhaps the main reason for this is the filmmakers decision to limit the story to that of the battle between David and Goliath. As a single narrative the film comes to a natural climax which provides tension throughout, even though the audience know all along who will win. This contrasts with some of the other David films which cover most of what we know about him leaving the storyline more as a series of episodes but without a great deal uniting the various threads or driving the plot.

    As with the other entries in the series, the film starts with a two and a half minute introduction to the Bible, which starts with the authoritative "In the beginning...". What follows is equally authoritative in tone but it moves from being actual words from the Bible, to a paraphrase of what the Bible says, to it's own modern take on the Bible.

    In some ways that's the opposite of what happens once the film starts properly. The opening scenes are all essentially extra-biblical - there's a huge sub=plot about Abner's plan to use David's bout with Goliath as a distraction which will allow his guerilla army to sneak up undetected on the unsuspecting Philistines. Then gradually the film moves more into ground that is more firmly biblical, ending on David killing Goliath.

    One of the biblical sounding additions is when David actually hears God's voice telling him to fight Goliath. It's an interesting addition - the only David film which I recall making the link between David's bravery and God's will so explicit. Typically the bravery aspect is played up, making David seem more heroic, whilst alleviating the issue of David killing and beheading an enemy.

    Another interesting way in which the programme makes subtle additions is a brief shot from Goliath's point of view. Again this is fairly rare, and it's notable not just because other films haven't really done it, but also because of the unusual angle that it uses. In fact of all the David films this is perhaps the one that is most sympathetic to Goliath. Apart from anything he is played by the most well known actor in the cast, Ted Cassidy, best known for playing Lurch in The Adams Family. Cassidy is undoubtedly tall (6'9"), but he doesn't appear as mighty as the majority of Goliaths, indeed he looks rather awkward.

    There are also elements of the Joseph story imported in here. When David's brothers hear it is he who is to tackle Goliath they implore Abner to let them fight Goliath in his place.

    The battle itself is also a little unusual. It's rather drawn out and the "sword, spear and javelin" line from 1 Sam 17:45 is played out rather literally as Goliath throws his spear and javelin at David before producing his sword. The fight scene is also intercut with shots of Abner's men sneaking into position. Whilst this whole sub-plot is rather ludicrous - not least because it seems to undermine the impression of being biblically faithful that the production seems to strive for - it has to be said that these intercut scenes, and the score do ratchet up the tension.

    Once his men are in position Abner blows his horn, David goes on the attack as do the Israelite army. There's a battle which might have culminated in a battle between the rather aged Saul and the Philistine king, were it not so feeble. Nevertheless, it's a more decent production than I would have imagined and at only 40 minutes worth seeing.

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